Inmates make warm wishes come true

Mike Farnworth

MANY people spending the holidays in Metro Vancouver-area shelters will sleep a little more soundly, thanks to “elves” at the Port Coquitlam North Fraser Pretrial Centre (NFPC).

Recognizing the importance of giving back, NFPC has partnered with local suppliers to collect linens that would otherwise end up in landfills, to support less-fortunate people. Over five weeks, a small but mighty team of 10 inmates has separated, folded, rolled and stacked thousands of blankets, sheets and towels to donate to local charities. People who are homeless or in transitional or temporary housing ultimately benefit, as do shelter animals awaiting their forever homes.

“Many inmates have faced very difficult circumstances in their own lives and empathize with those whom they’re helping through this program,” said Mike Farnworth, Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General. “It’s not an easy time of year to be in custody, but I understand this program is providing comfort to the inmates involved, as well as the people who are benefiting from their efforts.”

Earlier this year, two NFPC employees, instructor Gavin Sawle and correctional officer Starr Harvey, approached a local textile company about supplying the new program. The used linens, many of them at the end of their service lives in hospitals and other facilities, travel to a Burnaby company for cleaning before they arrive at the correctional centre for processing.

“This program has social and environmental value, providing meaningful work for the team and diverting linens that still have lots of life left in them away from the landfill,” Sawle said. “It’s also personal. A student I admired in school ended up on the street and subsequently lost their life. Supporting this program helps me give back.”

Beyond learning to work as a team, participating inmates are developing skills in light warehousing, stock-checking, shipping and receiving.

“I won’t be home for Christmas, but that’s also true for some people who are going to be in shelters where maybe these blankets help them sleep a little better, so that’s a good thing,” said an inmate involved in the blanket program. “What we are all doing, we do as team. We provide a product anyone can use and we all know that anyone can fall on hard times.”

“The blanket program helps ensure those who can’t access shelter stay warm while they spend nights outdoors,” said Troy Balderson, downtown projects manager for Al Mitchell Place, Powell Street Getaway and the Lookout Housing and Health Society. “Sometimes, it’s the simplest of gestures that can make all the difference in the lives of those we serve.”


Quick Facts:

* In the program’s first five weeks, the inmate team processed nearly 3,200 kilograms of linens and created about 2,500 bed rolls.

* The blanket program employs participating inmates for half days. NFPC staff are canvassing more used linen sources and more distributors so the program can expand to full days next year and serve more organizations.

* In time, NFPC hopes to expand its program to help people in other communities, in B.C. and internationally, to recover from apartment and forest fires, flooding and other challenges.